The NBA is making progress in diversifying its executive leadership positions. Traditionally, African-Americans have been unable to get in the doors of NBA executive front offices. Black general managers and front office executives are almost nonexistent in the NBA, despite the league being 75 percent Black.
That’s hardly a stat that supports its growing reputation as the all-encompassing, racially progressive leader in sports.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) June 1, 2016
That’s why the recent hirings of 38-year-old James Jones as General Manager of the Phoenix Suns and 39-year-old Tayshaun Prince as VP of Basketball Affairs for the Memphis Grizzlies is a big deal for the league and its future.
The moves reinforce a willingness by owners to put crucial decision-making and intellectual team construction in the hands of former Black players who have transcended the court and are now influencing the culture, direction, and narrative of the NBA.
— The Bright Side (@BrightSideSun) May 6, 2019
The battle for ownership and front-office diversity has been a long and arduous one for African-Americans in major professional sports. As it stands, however, the NBA has an all-time high of four Black general managers running teams at the executive level.
THE FUNKY FOUR
Jones will oversee all basketball operations and make tough decisions for the young and rising Suns.
Since joining the front office in 2017, Jones has been credited with spearheading the evaluation and evolution of team operations and improving the relationship between the front office, players and team personnel.
“James has demonstrated a remarkable ability to manage the day-to-day efforts of our front office while developing strong relationships with our players, coaches and those across our organization and league,” said Suns managing partner Robert Sarver. “Furthermore, he is instilling the same championship culture and standard that he experienced on multiple occasions as a player. I have the utmost confidence in James as the leader of our basketball operations moving forward, and we are aligned in the ultimate goal of one day bringing an NBA championship to Phoenix.”
Prince, on the other hand, played three seasons in Memphis from 2012 to 2015 before being traded to Boston and eventually back to the Detroit Pistons.
Similar to Jones’ key role as GM, Prince is also expected to “facilitate alignment between the front office, coaching staff and locker room and participate in the evaluation of professional, college and G League personnel.”
In other words, “he’s the glue.”
Prince will most likely be underestimated, as he has his entire basketball career. If his hoops success is any indication of his ability as a GM, then he’ll figure out a way that he can best lift Memphis back into elite championship contention.
“Tayshaun is one of those guys that’s flying under the radar, but his basketball I.Q. is incredibly high,” former Pistons defensive stalwart Ben Wallace told the Free Press.
“He’s been in the business… it definitely shows he’s willing to take the job seriously. He’s proven he can do it.”
NEW SHADE OF NBA EXECUTIVE
Prince and Jones represent a progressive NBA, where people of color are being hired to critical leadership and decision-making executive positions that were previously reserved for white men.
They both walked similar NBA paths as high-IQ role players and specialists who helped their teams win championships.
Prince was known for his versatility and smothering defensive prowess.
Jones was a 6-foot-8 wing who could light it up from three. He won two championships with Miami’s Big Three and another in 2016 with LBJ’s Cleveland Miracle squad.
When the Phoenix Suns fired general manager Ryan McDonough, Jones was named interim GM and eventually was hired full-time.
The Grizzlies fired head coach JB Bickerstaff and restructured the front office a day after the end of the regular season in which Memphis finished with a 33-49 record. Securing Prince was a major part of the plan.
Both hires demonstrate an incremental shift towards former players possessing hoops knowledge, managerial skills, and the ability to interact on various levels while bringing continuity to the organization.
BLACK EXECS ON THE RISE
There’s also been a rise in black assistant general managers like Sacramento Kings Brandon D. Williams, South Asian analytics wiz and MIT grad Sachin Gupta and former NBA player Malik Rose. Knicks assistant GM Gerald Matkins is part of an unprecedented All-Black Knicks front office.
The NY Knicks now have a
Black Team President & Black GM.
Very Very Very DOPE!
First time this has ever happened in the @NBA @nyknicks
The David Fizdale Era is gonna make The Garden Eden again.#DavidFizdale pic.twitter.com/ijDqWFdncz
— MichaelRapaport (@MichaelRapaport) May 7, 2018
The rush on young, Black executive talent is beginning right in front of our eyes. Brand has made some bold and beneficial moves for Philly in his first full season as GM. He’s in the thick of a championship run. Altman has his rebuild cut out for him in a post-LeBron Cleveland and Jones is also overseeing a rebuild. but has a nucleus of young ballers with the potential to do some damage in the near future.
Prince is moving into even more rarefied air as a VP of Basketball Affairs. The former Kentucky product’s basketball opinions will have a meaningful influence on the future of the Grizzlies franchise as they transition into a new era.
Believe it or not, these guys are pioneers. The NBA has never had a group of brothers in their 30’s leading franchises, making billion-dollar decisions, managing the personnel and constructing franchises from the dirt up.